One of the most common questions I see from new D&D players (and even some who have played for a while) is how to be a better roleplayer in D&D. After all, once you get past the basic rules and learn which dice is which, that’s the next obvious step. How do you transform your imaginary being from a bunch of numbers recorded on a sheet of paper to a vibrant being with personality and depth?
3 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer in D&D
#1 Write a Backstory
If you start with a solid understanding of who your character is, what they want, what makes them tick, etc., then roleplaying becomes a lot easier. This means coming up with a backstory.
The possibilities for your character’s backstory are as limitless as your imagination. The story can be happy, tragic, strange, funny—whatever you like. But there are a few elements you should include to set yourself up for better roleplaying:
- Influential locations (childhood home, city streets, forest village, etc.)
- Influential people (kindly grandfather, abusive sister, priest who served as mentor, etc.)
- Influential events (witnessed a loved one’s death, framed for a crime, kidnapped by pirates, etc.)
- Driving goal
Your character’s backstory will help you define how your character behaves and why they behave that way. What places, people, and events shaped your character to be who they are now? And what do they want most? These elements are the fuel of your character’s actions, and they will help you know how to roleplay better as that character.
You don’t have to write a novella that fills in every detail of your character’s life (although some players love writing that much). Actually, it might be better to leave some elements undefined so you can adjust as you play.
To keep things simple and focus on the core of your character’s story, try summarizing the whole thing in one sentence. Here are some examples of what I mean:
- Clair is a half-elf druid who was abandoned by her father as a child and grew up among polar bears in the frozen North.
- Theo is a human bard who developed a gambling addiction after his grandmother died and struggles to make his grandfather proud.
- Pebble is a human monk who left her home at a young age to rescue her mentor and prove that she is more than just a nobleman’s daughter.
Summing it up this way helps you grasp the key pieces of your character’s story without diving too deeply into the weeds. The better you understand what your character’s all about, the better your D&D roleplay will be.
#2 Define Character Flaws
Every great character has weaknesses. That’s part of what makes them interesting and relatable. And while it might be tempting to play a character who is good at everything and always makes the right choice, you probably won’t feel very connected to them by the end.
Because they won’t feel real.
Real people with real problems make mistakes. If you want to be a better roleplayer and want your character to come alive, they should make mistakes, too. So, take time to define what your characters’ flaws and weaknesses are and lean into them as you play.
Using the examples above, Clair the druid could have trouble trusting others and damage a relationship with a helpful NPC as a result. Theo the bard might be tempted to squander his treasure on a shaky bet. Pebble the monk may be overly confident and quick to start a fight.
At times, roleplaying to your character’s flaws means choosing to do something that you, as a player, know is not the best choice. For example, while you as a player may know that charging headlong into a trap-filled dungeon isn’t a great strategy, your character’s impulsive nature might lead them to do just that.
And that’s okay.
When it comes to roleplaying a character in D&D, sometimes losing is winning.
#3 Focus on Action
What many players think of when they hear “roleplaying” is acting in character at the table and speaking with a funny voice. And for many players, that thought is intimidating beyond belief. Most of us aren’t professional actors.
If you’re feeling that way about roleplay, no worries. There are plenty of ways to learn how to be a better roleplayer and play your character effectively without breaking out the accents (although if that’s your thing then go for it).
Start by focusing on action—narrate what your character is doing and how they’re reacting to the situation. Let’s say our example characters from earlier have just caught a merchant in a lie. Here’s what their reactions might look like:
- Clair glares at the merchant and walks away in silence.
- Theo smirks, slides a coin across the counter, and asks the merchant, “You want to try that again?”
- Pebble cracks her knuckles and demands that the merchant tell her the truth.
Imagining what your character would do is something you can consider even when your DM doesn’t specifically ask you. In fact, it’s those moments when your DM leaves it open to anyone to act that you can get some of the best character development. So don’t be afraid to take some initiative and jump into the fray.
You can practice by asking yourself “How does my character feel about this? What do they do as a result?” each time something significant happens. Or even something insignificant. You don’t have to wait for big plot points to make choices as your character.
And you don’t always have to take significant action, either. Something as simple as a scoff or a chuckle can make for great D&D roleplaying.
The Dos and Don’ts of Better D&D Roleplaying
I asked the Internet how to roleplay better in D&D and rounded up their responses here for your convenience. All these ideas are from players and DMs just like you who, with time and practice, have become more comfortable with roleplaying.
- Remember the story isn’t just about your character. The entire party together are the main characters.
- Play a character who will cooperate with the party and that your fellow players can enjoy being around.
- Choose a central character goal that relates to the larger story.
- Play a character with flaws.
- Let your character decide what they would do, even if you (as the player) know it’s not the best idea.
- Feel free to adjust your original character idea after you play a few sessions. Playing with others may change what you originally had in mind.
- Don’t stress about character voices unless you’re comfortable with them. They can be fun, but they aren’t the only way to play.
- Don’t use “It’s what my character would do” as a way to justify poor behavior toward your fellow players (i.e. stealing items, bullying, etc.). That’s just bad manners.
- Don’t worry about being perfect. There’s no such thing as perfect roleplay—you do you.
- Don’t forget to share the spotlight with your party members.
Ideas for How to Be a Better Roleplayer in D&D
Ultimately, the best way to become a better roleplayer in D&D is to practice. Act silly. Embrace the weird. Chances are that everyone at your table is just as self-conscious about playing their characters as you are—if you take the first steps, you give everyone else unspoken permission to do the same.
But if you don’t have a consistent game or if you just want some extra practice, you might also try a few of these ideas for how to roleplay better in D&D:
- Try coming up with the personality of your character before selecting a race and class.
- Choose a character who is like you so you can easily relate.
- Play a character with non-optimized stats (like a wizard with more strength than intelligence) and explore how that affects their personality.
- Take time to interact with the other player characters, not just NPCs, to create more roleplaying opportunities.
- Try playing your character both in the third-person and first-person to see which feels more comfortable.
- Ask your DM if they would be willing to roleplay via text or chat outside of the regular session time if there’s something you want your character to do.
- Ask your DM to plan a session where all the characters are gathered around a campfire or a table of drinks and have the chance to tell a story.
- Create a full character profile to get to know your character even better.
- Imagine your character in different scenarios, then play out in your mind what they would do.
- Watch other players whose roleplaying skills you admire, whether at your own table or on a show.
- Find an image online (or commission one) of what your character looks like. Visualizing them can help you further understand their personality.
- Listen to and learn an accent to create a character voice.
- Try an improv or acting class to be a better roleplayer. Nothing gets you out of your comfort zone quicker than acting silly in front of a bunch of strangers.
Become Someone Else
They say that part of the appeal of tabletop roleplaying games is that you get to become someone else for a little while. I know the first time I started to fully understand my D&D character, I fell in love with the game. The more you jump into roleplaying, the more you’ll see how incredible that feeling can be.
So start simple, build a character you enjoy, and have fun with it. You’ll be an excellent roleplayer in no time. Oh, and if you have any great roleplaying tips to share, tweet me @Level1_Geek!